Between the time I was in the third grade and the time I was around thirty years old, I was the sort of person who could look across a room and think I just fell in love. I didn’t feel this emotion was something that I could control at all, and I imagine that there are many of you reading this who think love is something that just happens; it’s an emotion you don’t have any ability to steer. Certainly there are people who think they fall in love each time they see someone who physically catches their eye, but I wasn’t like that as a boy into my teenage and twenty-something self. There could have been a cast of fifty beautiful and interesting women, and somehow I always managed to become secretly devoted to one.
Let me jump back to third grade love: my family moved from Logansport, Indiana—home of the Berries—to a house a mile outside of a town called Twelve Mile, so named for its relative distances from several other “bigger” towns. Even in the third grade, being the new kid brought with it some love capital that could have been (but wasn’t) cashed in. I fell for this girl I’ll call “Ali” right away, a pseudonym I choose after Elisabeth Shue’s character in the 1984 Karate Kid. Something rare happened between Ali and me, and because I was just getting started with the whole business of “liking” people, I didn’t realize how rare it was. Ali started sending me a lot of notes via that special delivery system of the artfully folded note that works its way to its intended recipient desk-to-desk, hand-by-hand across the classrooms of the world. What was so rare about that? Let me ask you another question as an answer: How many of you have liked/loved someone who instantly liked/love you right back?
I recall Ali’s notes being of the will you be my boyfriend? / check “yes” or “no” variety. So there I sat, in third grade love with Ali, receiving a note from her asking me to be her boyfriend. So what did I do? Red faced with shame—at being a coward?—I threw that note, along with the ten or so that followed, right into the garbage. Even though the notes arrived most times in front of our whole class, I pretended as if I never received them. Eventually, Ali stopped sending me love notes, and I vaguely remember still liking her as a seventh grader. For at least four years, I secretly “loved” her, and I barely even spoke to her. We may have traded very small talk a couple times in our lives, and each time I was horrendously nervous. I always wondered if she even remembered sending me the notes, and now, looking back, I feel sure that she did. She thought I’d rejected her, and I felt in love with her. How does that work?
Before my eighth grade year, my family moved roughly twenty miles away to Winamac, and I still remember keeping track of Ali—of seeing her at various interschool athletic events—all the while wondering if my life would have been different if I’d only checked “yes.” Why did it take me so long to try and love someone who would love me back?
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